Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/9/2011 (2098 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
At long last, a real debate.
For those following the 2011 provincial election campaign, it has become obvious there hasn't been much opportunity for the leaders of Manitoba's four main political parties to actually debate the pressing issues. There have been forums -- many, many forums -- but none allowed for head-on debate. And almost none of them invited the Green party to join the NDP, the Liberal party and the Progressive Conservatives. A shame to be sure.
Winnipeg's three main television stations -- the CBC, Global and CTV -- remedied both problems on Friday night with a debate that actually offered a chance for the leaders to debate. NDP Leader Greg Selinger, Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen, Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard and Green Leader James Beddome got a chance to mix it up. There were no knockouts, but it was still far and away the best event of the campaign.
It seemed at one point there would be no televised debate. However, a compromise, which saw this debate run from about 6:10 p.m. to 7 p.m., gave us a version of what we needed. Not enough time, really, but not bad.
How did the leaders fare? Selinger started the debate by answering a question from a voter about how he would reduce emergency room wait times. Selinger appeared almost as if he had been waiting too long in an ER waiting room: tired and drawn. However, as the attacks on his government's 12-year record began to ramp up, so did his energy level. By the end of the debate, Selinger was sharp and lively.
Selinger's biggest flaw when performing at a live event is his short temper. In earlier radio forums, he lost his temper with McFadyen several times and seemed foolish for having done so. If this had been repeated on TV, it could have been fatal. Selinger did get snippy at times, but mostly kept his cool.
Selinger's greatest attribute is his iron grip on facts and figures. As a former finance minister, he made it his business to understand the economics of each and every government department. His knowledge of the finer details of government operations ensures he is never at a loss in a debate. That was in plain view Friday night.
Gerrard was as he has always been, knowledgeable, empathetic but oddly inarticulate. The Liberal leader has an annoying habit of starting but not finishing what appear to be promising sentences. And allowing pointed attacks to drift away into ancillary issues that, while fascinating, are not on point.
Beddome was earnest and remarkably articulate for a politician who does not have the experience of the other three. He should have been included in all the debates. This one forum is not likely enough to help his party.
If there was any doubt this is a race between Selinger and McFadyen, it was put to rest in this debate. The only tension on this night was sparked when Selinger and McFadyen were trading digs. They are the only two leaders with a chance to form government, and this debate was evidence they are the best suited for the job of premier.
McFadyen displayed the acumen he has shown daily in the Manitoba legislature, where he has earned a reputation as articulate and well-informed. Unfortunately, if there is a trait that weakens these natural strengths, it is his tendency to abandon the solid tack of advocating change to dive headlong into tenuous hyperbole.
The Tories are the most credible party on crime and justice issues, but McFadyen's attacks on the NDP's justice record strains credulity. McFadyen recited a rap sheet of the numbers of violent crimes that took place during the campaign, implying that the province was somehow directly responsible. This kind of hyperbole tends to come back to haunt opposition leaders when they become premiers. McFadyen can look at the 1999 NDP pledge to end hallway medicine for evidence of this dynamic.
The biggest moment of the night came at 6:46 p.m., when McFadyen got his chance to go head to head with Selinger. He recited a litany of Manitoba's shortcomings and afflictions that clearly showed McFadyen no longer saw the glass half-empty. It appears he sees the glass as totally empty. However, all those shortcomings are not the most important part of McFadyen's attack. So many of his sentences began with "For the past 12 years," a pretty concrete reminder that the biggest threat to a fourth term for the NDP is the length of time they have held office. Many of the outrageous allegations McFadyen threw at Selinger are unlikely to stick, but the constant reminder that this is a government that has been around for more than a decade is the Tories' strongest card.
This debate did not settle the campaign and may have only served to entrench already committed voters. But there were some very strong signals sent out to the electorate. Signals that may register in time for Oct. 4.